Award recognition of effort to save seabirds

Isao Nakagawa wanted to go fishing, not save seabirds.

But on Saturday the 80-year-old Napili resident received the “Harvard Kennedy School for Public Leadership’s Award for Innovations in Government” for his more than a decade of work in establishing a thriving seabird colony at Hawea Point in Kapalua.

Contacted by phone Friday, Nakagawa shied away from taking credit for what has been accomplished at the bird colony, where there were only about 16 bird burrows in 2001. At present, there are more than 1,000 burrows.

Now, the site is “the island’s largest colony of ua’u kani,” which are also known as wedge-tailed shearwaters, said Isabelle Walker, a field biology assistant.

Nakagawa said that in 2001 he sought and received permission to gain access across private property to go fishing at Hawea Point.

During visits at first, he saw one or two dead seabirds, and he threw them in bushes. Then, one day he saw 22 birds killed by cats or dogs and he sought help from Fern Duvall, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

“From that day on, I said, ‘I’m going to take care of this place,’ ” Nakagawa said.

He received guidance from Duvall, a bird expert, and worked to establish a seabird colony.

Using donated materials “from nice people around the area,” he set up traps to capture the birds’ predators, including rats, cats and mongooses, he said.

Three years ago, staff from the Kapalua resort and Maui Land & Pineapple Co. helped as well, he added.

“With Fern’s guidance, Isao began protection activities and monitoring the colony as well as assisting with banding (birds),” Walker said. “Isao continues to be a valuable asset to the program and a great example of community stewardship.”

The colony’s success would not be possible “without the help of Isao and the conservation staff of Maui Land & Pineapple,” she said.

According to an announcement of the award from DLNR, Hawea Point is home to Maui’s largest-known wedge-tailed shearwater colony.

Nakagawa said that the number of bird predators has been brought under control, although people should not bring dogs into the area, even if the pets are on leashes.

“No dogs,” he said, “not on leashes or carried.”

It’s too easy for dogs to get ahold of birds and injure or kill them, said the retired Maui Pineapple Co. employee, who did everything from plant and harvest pineapple to working as an equipment maintenance mechanic during his 40 years with the company.

Ongoing work is being done at the bird colony, he said, to using plastic tubes to help make burrow homes for the birds and protect their eggs.

Nakagawa said that he has bad knees and poor health, so he infrequently works at the bird colony but is gratified that others are continuing his work.

* Brian Perry can be reached at